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Volume 28 Issue 1 | September 20 - November 8, 2022

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

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BOOK LAUNCH

JOHN

BECKWITH,

Musician

MAX CHRISTIE

On Friday, September 9 there was

a celebration of a book, and of a

musician, and of a whole string of

numbers, including 17 and 95. It took

place within the cozy confines of the

Canadian Music Centre, in the space of

one hour give or take a half on either

side. The book is the 17th published

by John Beckwith, who doggedly

refused to allow recognition of his 95th

birthday, since it took place exactly

one-half year ago, and who quibbled in

good humour over the accuracy of the number 17. “I’m

not sure they were all books…” and with utmost comic

timing, added “I think some of them were pamphlets.”

The evening was introduced by Beckwith’s friend and vital collaborator,

Robin Elliott. The printed program mentioned that opening

remarks would be given by Beckwith himself, so one assumed

(wrongly as it turned out), that John had asked Robin to take the lead.

He sat down and the first of two performances took place. Once the

singing stopped, Robin stood to ruefully ask if John would in fact

still like to make the remarks he had planned. Which, of course, he

then did, coming out with the “pamphlets” zinger along with a few

more delightful digs at his own and our expense. “I hope you’ll enjoy

reading it…and if not I believe there are some pictures…” We were

eating out of his hand.

Beckwith is modest and self-deprecating, which is no surprise to any

who’ve worked with him. He simply won’t give in to age, or inertia, or

anything else one might associate with the notion of living well into

one’s tenth decade. The book’s lengthy title is Music Annals: Research

and Critical Writings by a Canadian Composer 1973-2014. Call it

Volume II. (Elliot noted in his remarks that this book follows an earlier

collection, underlining that this was only a selection from among many

pieces not yet bound together.) Add to that, since the evening naturally

included musical performances, he continues to draw up delightful,

witty, challenging and profound music for today’s performers.

Chapter and Verse (2017-18) is a setting of the poetry of Paul

Dutton, whose wordplay and wit mask some dark thoughts indeed.

Two sopranos (the equally delightful Sara Schabas and Caitlin

Wood) sing birdlike antiphons whilst whirling about the dark woods

provided by Rory McLeod’s viola. Dutton loves a good puzzle, as must

Beckwith. One through Twelve play about in the

last three songs, which are drawn from his collection

The Book of Numbers; the first text is a poem

addressed to M.C. Escher!

During the same period, Beckwith was commissioned

by the talented duo of pianist Edana

Higham and percussionist Zac Pulak, together

known as SHHH!! Ensemble. Meanwhile explores

the beauty of folk melody, or perhaps simple devotional

song, expressing grief by the end of the

work. I thought of an old vine-covered stone structure

brought suddenly down by the wrecking ball.

Musically modern and deeply expressive, SHHH!!

play it like they own it, which in a sense they do;

they clearly love performing it and do so with complete assurance and

mastery. The duo will be back to release their first CD on October 29;

Meanwhile is the title track. Their star continues to rise with news

that their next project has already been green-lit.

But the book? What of the mind that communicates in words as

well as in musical sounds? It’s early days and I am a slow reader.

Beckwith chose the title carefully in reference to the work of a

19th-century French Canadian cleric named Thomas-Étienne Hamel.

Hamel’s contribution to Franco-Canadian folkloric study was a collection

of colloquial songs in a notebook titled “Annales Musicales du

Petit-Cap.” One section in Beckwith’s collection describes and annotates

the work of Hamel, and elsewhere he refers to it while discussing

other scholarly study. Beckwith could well lay claim to various titles:

academic researcher, music critic, polemicist, and of course composer.

Often through the pages of the collection, carefully selected and annotated

by Elliott, he sheds personal labels, and reminds the reader

or listener (some selections are transcribed talks) that he remains

committed to the work of composing and writing, but fundamentally

considers the title “musician” to be sufficiently descriptive.

Mr. Beckwith’s curiosity and commitment to study make his

book essential reading to any interested, as he so passionately is,

in Canadian music making, especially that of the dominant settler

cultures. But his wit and scathing humour make it a delight to read,

especially in two letters he addressed to The Globe and Mail in the

1970s. The reader should be ready for a hearty chuckle at the expense

of music critics overly fond of vapid verbiage. The critics should take

note and tighten up their style; and their acuity.

Max Christie is a Toronto-based musician and writer. He performs as

principal clarinet of the National Ballet Orchestra when restrictions

allow, and otherwise spends too much time on Twitter, @chxamaxhc.

HOLLY NIMMONS

12 | September 20 - November 8, 2022 thewholenote.com

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